It's easy to understand why Karl Malone and Ray Allen feel they should be paid for playing basketball in the 2004 Olympics.
After all, they'll be giving up a hefty portion of their summer to do so, when they could be using that time to work a second job.
You know, like schoolteachers.
Obviously, like teachers, Malone needs to supplement his regular income, which this season is a paltry $19.25 million.
Allen, meanwhile, will have to get by on the barely subsistence level $13.5 million he'll make playing for the Sonics next season before he dons the red, white and blue of Team USA.
Allen's argument, as presented in a recent Tacoma News Tribune article, is that Team USA players deserve to be paid because past players — including members of the original Dream Team — were paid. He also thinks that since USA Basketball is making money by using players' names to make money — selling jerseys, etc. — that players should get a cut.
"The first two Dream Teams, they got paid," Allen said. "So when we came to Australia (in 2000), we were like, 'How much money are we going to get?' And they said, 'You guys aren't getting anything.' And I was like, 'Well, how is that? Don't you feel that you should pay? We are playing basketball.'"
Malone's contention, outlined Friday in an ESPN.com article, is that the players deserve to be compensated financially for the hassle of adhering to the labyrinthine rules of the USOC.
"We are making a pretty big commitment for them," Malone said. "Other than the honor to go back and play and bring the gold back, I don't see what kind of commitment they are making."
Malone also said, ". . . as athletes you feel that if they are paying that kind of money, some kind of way, as an athlete, you should be paid. It is just the right thing to do."
Yeah, that whole "honor" thing? Way over-rated.
Show them the money.
That would be the "right thing."
Forget about the fact that USA Basketball is a nonprofit organization that doesn't just field dream teams of spoiled NBA players. It also fields women's teams and junior national teams in international competition, as well as sponsoring men's and women's teams that tour and play in foreign countries.
Let's bag the money that would be wasted on those unworthy efforts and give it to the guys who really bring in the dough.
Some idealistic types no doubt will say that NBA players should look at this as their chance to give something back to the sport that made their glittery earnings possible, to ask not what their country can do for them, but what they can do for their country.
A chance to — for a change — see the big picture instead of the little mirror.
But who are we kidding? It's always about the money. Fancy-sounding concepts such as honor, patriotism, loyalty have their place, but they aren't going to pay for that new engine for the monster truck.
You make a layup, you deserve to get paid for it.
Others might even try to compare this to another group of Americans who are being asked to serve their country at the moment, a group that could soon be faced not with the possibility of catching an elbow in the nose, but a bullet.
In recent weeks we have read or heard story after story of ordinary people uncomplainingly leaving behind families and jobs and safety to answer a call that could result in their fighting a war. They're paid, yes, but they're not paid much.
And, of course, they were volunteers, while these NBA guys — wait a minute, they volunteered, too. And when they accepted their invitations, the NBA players made all the right noises about what an honor it would be to represent their country.
And then that dang electric bill came . . .